Washington, DC: The Supreme Court of the United States ruled last week 5 to 4 to limit law enforcement’s use of drug sniffing dogs in situations where police did not possess probable cause or a warrant. The ruling upheld a Florida Supreme Court decision finding that police violated the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution when they allowed a drug identification dog to sniff around the front door of a private home absent a search warrant specifically authorizing them to do so.
Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia opined: "The police cannot, without a warrant based on probable cause, hang around on the lawn or in the side garden, trawling for evidence and perhaps peering into the windows of the home. And the officers here had all four of their feet and all four of their companion’s, planted firmly on that curtilage – the front porch is the classic example of an area intimately associated with the life of the home."
Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined in the opinion.
Writing for the minority, Justice Samuel Alito opined that law enforcement’s use of the dog "did not constitute a trespass and did not violate respondent’s reasonable expectations of privacy."
The case is Florida v. Jardines.
The Supreme Court in 2005 had previously ruled (Illinois v. Caballes) that an alert from a police dog during a traffic stop provides a constitutional basis for law enforcement to search the interior of the vehicle.
According to a 2011 study published in the scientific journal Animal Recognition, the performance of drug-sniffing dogs is significantly influenced by whether or not their handlers believe illicit substances are present. International statistics indicate that drug dogs are prone to false alerts, with data indicating an 80 percent failure rate in some cases.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director or Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel at (202) 483-5500.